After years on the drawing board and in the lab, NASA's huge All-Terrain, Hex-Limbed, Extra-Terrestrial Explorer (ATHLETE) rover is finally getting a chance to stretch its six legs.
Engineers from NASA's Jet Propulsion Laboratory has put the ATHLETE rover through a series of long-drive tests on the long, dirt roads found adjacent to the space agency's Jet Propulsion Laboratory (JPL) in California where ATHLETE was designed and built. They even made a music video in which the bug-like rover appears to dance. [Video of the dancing ATHLETE rover.]
ATHLETE is a half-scale working prototype of a robot under development to transport habitats and other cargo on the surface of the moon or Mars. The ATHLETE concept is a level cargo deck carried by six wheels, each on the end of a configurable leg.
The JPL grounds do not include an unpaved area of sufficient size for testing such a large robot over a long distance. Some of the dirt roads in the Arroyo Seco, Calif. (a wash located next to JPL), are wide enough for ATHLETE, and its close proximity to JPL allows the robot to be secured in its hangar between test runs.
The engineers want to test the moon rover's ability to meet a NASA milestone of traveling at least 25 miles (40 km) over 14 days under its own power. The official demonstration is slated to begin in the Arizona high desert next month.
The prototype stands approximately 15 feet (4.5 m) tall and 15 ft (4.5 m) wide and weighs about 2.5 tons (about 2,300 kg). The robot moves relatively slowly, with a top speed during traverse of approximately 1.25 mph (2 km/h).
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